Gender equality in Wales: progression or regression?

Published 08/03/2018   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is ‘Press for Progress’. The World Economic Forum recently predicted that it will take 100 years to close the global gender gap at the current rate of change, with increasing inequality in the workplace and in political representation.

But what progress is Wales making towards gender equality?

In 2017 the Research Service launched a set of gender equality indicators for Wales to provide an illustration of gender inequality in Wales based on the most recent statistics. This year we have updated the indicators (where new data is available) and summarised the areas where equality between men and women has grown and reduced:

Economic activity rate: the gender gap between men and women has narrowed very slightly, from 70.9% in 2016 to 72.2% in 2017 for women, and 78.6% to 79.3% for men.

Entrepreneurship: the ‘total early stage entrepreneurial activity’ rate (which is the percent of the working age population about to start an entrepreneurial activity or that have started one in the previous 3.5 years) for women increased from 4.6% to 5.8% between 2015 and 2016, and from 9% to 9.5% for men.

Pay: the gap between women’s and men’s pay narrowed very slightly by all three measures (all work, full time work and part time work). The pay gap between men and women in full time work is still £1.81 an hour. A more in-depth analysis of the gender pay gap in Wales is below.

Private sector: There has been a slight increase in the number of women chief executives of the top 100 businesses in Wales – from 2% in 2014 to 6% in 2017.

Unemployment: The ILO unemployment rate has decreased for both women (from 5.2 to 4.2) and men (5.6 to 4.6) between 2016 and 2017, so the gap has neither widened nor closed.

Part time employment: the gender gap widened slightly as the part time employment rate for men fell slightly, while women’s remained the same.

Local authorities: between 2014 and 2017 the percent of women local authority chief executives fell from 18% to 14%. The percent of women local authority staff rose from 72% to 73% over the same period.

Self-employment: women’s self-employment rate fell slightly from 9.4% to 9.2% between 2016 and 2017, whereas men’s stayed the same.

Suicide: the suicide rate per 100,000 people increased from 4.3 to 4.7 for women, and from 18 to 19.5 for men between 2014 and 2015.

Young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs): While the NEET rate for women aged 16-18 and 18-24 reduced from 2015 to 2016, the NEET rate for men has increased for both age groups.

Homelessness: The number of homeless people that are in priority need has risen, but the gap between the number of women and men has increased slightly, with women being much more likely than men to be in priority need and eligible for help. Men are more likely to be homeless but not in priority need.

The gender pay gap in Wales

The gender pay gap is one of the most widely discussed indicators of gender equality across Wales and the UK. The pay differentials between BBC staff, and the requirement for businesses with at least 250 employees to report on gender pay differences by 4 April 2018 have received considerable media coverage over recent months. So what’s the story in Wales?

There is no single measure of the gender pay gap. Looking at full time hourly earnings provides a picture of differences in earnings where people work similar hours. Looking at hourly earnings of all employees (both part time and full time) takes account of pay differences related to women being more likely to work part time than men.

Some sectors have a bigger gender pay gap than others, and some have different gaps based on different measures. For example, in Wales:

  • Across all industries the gender pay gap is just under 15% for all employees and just over 6% for full-time employees;
  • In the manufacturing industry men earn 28% more than women based on the earnings of all employees. For full time employees only, the gender pay gap is 18%;
  • In information and communication occupations men earn just under 25% more than women. When you look solely at full-time employees the gender pay gap is 21%;
  • In professional, scientific and technological occupations men earn 21% more than women. Full-time men earn 16% more than full-time women.
  • Occupations such as real estate, accommodation and food, and administration and support services have a lower gender pay gap than the Welsh average for both full-time employees and all employees.

There is no single explanation for the gender pay gap. The Office for National Statistics has undertaken analysis showing that almost two-thirds of the UK’s gender pay gap is explained by factors such as occupation, hours worked, sector and location. But there are a range of other factors that would need to be modelled to fully understand the impact of discrimination on the gender pay gap. These include the impact of family structures, education and career breaks.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that the gender pay gap widens from the late 20s and early 30s. They also found that, before mothers in the UK have their first child, the gender pay gap is 10%. By the time their first child is 12, women are paid a third less per hour than men. When women return to paid work after having children, on average they earn 2% less for every year they have been outside the paid workforce. The pay differential is higher for women who have higher qualifications.

The Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into pregnancy, maternity and work. It will explore the impact that having children has on employment and income.

Article by Hannah Johnson, Gareth Thomas and David Millett, National Assembly for Wales Research Service